Good Morning All! Last year, with all of the first time visitors, there seemed to be some frustrations bubbling in both the on-island resident community AND the long time visitor crowd. I think something that gets overlooked here, because it does seem very much like the states, is that there are cultural norms and niceties here that stem from the heritage of native Virgin Islanders. These daily habits and, on the other side, snafus, often do not get translated to folks who have just moved to island or are only here for a short time during their first visit.
I know, I know, there are those who simply exhibit bad behavior and, unfortunately, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks when they are simply visiting for a week. But, I think that a lot of the cultural norms and daily rituals that we have here often remain overlooked by visitors and new comers simply because they don’t know! So, as we get into another seemingly BUSY season over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing what I can in order to help make your stay on St. John as Love City NICE as it can be! Because Love City boils down to the kindnesses of the people who live here. And, you gotta give it to get it!
If any of you have ever vacationed in, say, France or Hawaii, you’ll likely remember that you received a better reaction from the locals when you were working to embrace their culture. Even just a little bit. A broken Bon Jour or a stumble through the French menu will get you a lot farther in Paris than immediately asking for a menu in American English. A simple Aloha or Mahalo might earn you a smile instead of a frown on Maui. So, the same goes with the Virgin Islands. Embracing the culture a bit will get you a long way with a smile on your face. Something as simple as a proper greeting will start each on island interaction with your best foot forward!
A simple greeting will go a long way. Use Good Morning, Good Afternoon or Good Night…Or Good Day if you are confused about the time 🙂
I know, I know…I fumbled through it for my first few months here (especially the Good Night!). I forgot it a lot and definitely recognized my plunder each time with a sneer from the bank teller or post office clerk at my mistaken lack of a “hello.” But, over time, it became embedded in my language as many habits do become ingrained in your daily life with proper practice…And missteps.
So, work on this the next time you are visiting…Good Morning, Good Morning (Or afternoon or night!). Say it to everyone you interact with…from bartenders to shop keeps to rental car agents to the ferry crew to passers by on the streets. It is the norm for both friends and strangers. Wishing someone this simple blessing before jumping in to ask for what you need will create a more pleasant encounter. It shows respect. It shows kindness. It shows that you have at least attempted to educate yourself a bit about the way things work here in Love City prior to your visit 🙂
Last spring, I wrote up a documentary about this wonderful cultural norm…I’d advise checking out that post and watching the beautiful film!
Another big topic of discussion last season was “What to wear?” when you are anywhere in town. No shirt, no shoes, no service is the norm across all businesses in the Virgin Islands, but it is taken a step further here.
If you are in town or going in to any business, including boarding a taxi or a ferry, COVER UP!
I understand the misinformation on this. Especially with the influx of visitors we have here who are used to vacationing in Florida or North Carolina beach towns. We used to go to Myrtle Beach every year when I was a kid and I rarely remember wearing anything but a bathing suit. It isn’t called for and no one really cares.
But, the Virgin Islands isn’t Daytona or Myrtle Beach or Destin. As much as Cruz Bay might FEEL like a beach town where Kenny Chesney might unleash the notorious “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem,” chorale, it is far from that. Kenny Chesney is not the culture here, contrary to popular belief. Virgin Islanders are a more conservative people (maybe except during Carnival :)) and the culture here calls for coverage as a note of respect. And, it is actually ILLEGAL to be non-compliant with this rule!!!
US Virgin Islands Code Title 14, Chapter 51 states the following:
…who shall appear upon any public street or thoroughfare within town limits of any town in the Virgin Islands in bathing costume or any similarly abbreviated attire such as to offend public decency.
Violators of this rule may be subjected to a $100 fine and up to 90 days in jail! And, even if you don’t have a run in with Johnny Law, its an incredibly embarrassing encounter for both you and the shop keep or bar tender when someone needs to ask you to put some clothes on in public. So, here are some general guidelines for covering up and keeping in line with the norms…
- When you are in a town…Cruz Bay, Coral Bay, St. Thomas, etc…you should be covered from your chest to your thighs. Guys, that means a shirt. Ladies, a sundress will do!
- The see through or mesh bathing suit cover ups are not deemed as “appropriate.”
- If you are boarding a taxi or getting in your car at the end of a beautiful beach day, throw on your covering before you get to town.
- If you are going into a place to conduct business (BMV, Bank, etc.) try to steer in the direction of something more conservative. Short sleeves instead of tank tops, khakis instead of cut offs, etc.
- Never, ever, ever approach a bar, restaurant or other business in only your bathing suit or swim trunks!
I know this all seems like a bit much, but it isn’t like the ask is to be covered in long sleeves and pants. If you wouldn’t go into a casual eatery or a grocery store in your home town wearing the item in question, then it probably isn’t appropriate here. A general rule of thumb is to make sure your chest and your behind are covered in town.
Speaking of coverings…
Yes, we still have a mask mandate.
Yes, we are all tired of enforcing it. No, we do not know when it is going away.
In July of 2020, the mask mandate went into effect and the Executive Order states:
It is mandatory that masks or face coverings over the nose and mouth are to be worn:
• When out in public places
• Upon entering any business, and kept on, including in bars and restaurants, unless
when eating or drinking, or when exercising as long as 6 ft physical distance can be
• At work where there are others in the same workspace
• At schools, daycare centers, camps, recreational facilities
• In places of worship and at funerals
• On ferry’s and other modes of public transportation
This does not apply to children under 2 years of age.
No, you do not need to wear a mask at beaches or on trails as long as social distancing can be maintained unless you are using a public restroom facility or approaching a concessionaire.
I know, that as mask mandates in the states (in most places) have gone away, many visitors have left their masks and their habits of wearing one behind as they depart for a beautiful beach vacation. But, the Governor continues to fight like hell to keep our numbers down and our beaches open and the mask mandate is, unfortunately, a piece of that puzzle. I have high hopes that one day soon we can leave the masks blowing in the wind, but it is still required in the Virgin Islands for now. You know I will update you with glee when that portion of the regulations is over 🙂
I do sincerely hope that this information is useful and not too preachy! Frustrations were so high last summer over the lack of understanding of the simple cultural norms on St. John that my intent with this series is to simply educate in an attempt to keep everyone smiling….Both residents and visitors! Next week, we will get into the wildlife, both under the sea and on the land and how we can better protect our furry and seafaring friends. Have a great weekend everyone!